COVENTRY TWP.  More than 800 jumpers braved the still frigid depths of Turkeyfoot Lake Feb. 18 for the annual Portage Lakes Polar Bear Club’s Polar Bear Jump, to benefit the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.

The event generated more than $160,000 for the food bank, setting a new record for both participants and money raised.

Before announcing this year’s top corporate fundraising team, First Energy – which raised $35,720 – Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank President Dan Flowers put this year’s Polar Bear Jump total into perspective.

"That will feed 600,000 people in our area," Flowers said.  "And a third of those are kids under 18. So you guys are making a huge impact."

Then Flowers himself promptly dove into the lake.

Warm outing

The real hero, however, may have been Mother Nature, as the mercury inched into the mid-60s by mid-day.

"61 and sunny is all I know," said Green Mayor Gerard Neugebauer, who was making his second official plunge after braving nearly 70-degree weather at last year’s Polar Bear Plunge. His choice of a complete swimsuit, contrary to many at the event, also erred on the side of conservatism.

"I had to be careful not to be immodest," the mayor said.

When he came out of the lake, though, it was evident the swimsuit had other advantages.

"It’s cold," Neugebauer said bluntly.

Still, for some the unseasonably balmy temperatures were seen as a drawback.

"I wish it was colder," said Joshua Milbrodt, of Canal Fulton, who had jumped previously in 2010 and 2016.  "And we like to support all the charities."

Last year’s warm outing convinced Milbrodt, dressed as a very un-conservative cowboy, to talk his friend, Cory Cooper into participating. While Cooper was a bit more covered in his construction worker get-up, he was beginning to realize shortly before making his jump that the sun can be deceiving.

"We put our hands in – it’s pretty cold," Cooper said.

Colorful characters

Beyond the fundraising component, of course, the most memorable part of any Polar Bear Jump is the costumes – and 2017 did not disappoint in that department. Everything from yard gnomes, to M&Ms, to warm and fuzzy Hello Kitty onesies and the tiniest of bikinis crowded the dock and covered the beach.

At least one group – Gretchen Sullivan, Amy Brewer, Marty Whims, Matt Brewer, and Justin Layton – of Stark Enterprises took things to a swanky new level, making their jump in business suits and dresses.

"We’re the Wet Suits!" Whims proclaimed, as the group emerged dripping head to toe – and ties to lapels – from the lake.

Lasting impact

Adam Rosenberger, the Polar Bear Jump’s official "Chilly Chicken," was on hand again – for the fourth straight year - to represent those who were willing to donate $50 or more, but not so willing to get wet.

Rosenberger was already a veteran jumper when he picked up the mantle of the Chilly Chicken.  But like many volunteer opportunities, practicality also played a part.

"Well, I had the suit," Rosenberg said.

He added that, while he has his own personal preference, weather is still secondary "Two years ago we had to cut through 14 inches of ice on the lake – and I think it’s much more exhilarating when it’s colder – but to me, it’s all about the atmosphere of the day. You have people coming out, jumping, and you can raise $135,000 in a matter of hours. It’s really amazing."